THE two largest of the Mediterranean islands belong to Italy. They are Sardinia, south of Corsica, larger than Rhode Island and Massachusetts combined, and Sicily, at the toe of the Italian boot, which is much larger still. Both islands are rugged and mountainous, both have rich valleys and plains, and both are inhabited by people of the same race as the Italians. Sicily is the richer and more important; but Sardinia lies right on our route, and we visit it first.
Leaving Elba, we sail southward along the coast of Corsica, and then skirt the eastern shores of Sardinia until we reach the end of the island and enter the port of Cagliari (kal’ ya-re), its capital.
We are in sight of mountains all the way. They are heavily wooded and capped with fleecy white clouds. Some of the peaks are more than a mile high, and parts of the shore are rugged in the extreme. Our little steamer goes lazily along, and we lean over the rail, watching the land with our field glasses. We can make out the olive orchards and vineyards of the foothills, and are told that the woods higher up contain cork trees, chestnuts, oaks, and pines.
Coming into Cagliari Bay, we are in an amphitheater of which the sea is the floor, and the hills, covered with buildings forming the city, are the encircling tiers. There are many boats and ships in the harbor, for Cagliari is the center of the life and trade of the island. It is a quaint town, with narrow streets which we have to climb to get from one place to another.
We land, and make our way about through the city. The sidewalks are crowded. All sorts of work goes on in the open air. Here a cobbler is mending boots right out on the street. A little farther on a tailor is sewing, while down in that alley you may see a girl washing clothes. There are many peddlers showing their wares, rosy-cheeked children play about in the dirt, and donkeys, dogs, and goats wind their way in and out through the crowd. The people are dark faced, with rosy cheeks. Both men and women wear bright colors, and all together the scene is a gay one.
The better parts of the town are more open. There are many churches, and we frequently see priests and nuns in black or white gowns going about from one church to another.
The island of Sardinia is well known in history. The Phoenicians and Carthaginians had settlements upon it, and it was once called the granary of the Romans. Some parts of it are still fertile, but its lowlands are unhealthful and malarial, and it is of no great importance in the commerce of the Mediterranean.
It is different with Sicily, which we are now about to visit. That island produces about one third of the wine of Italy, half the barley, a large part of the wheat, and nine tenths of the fruit. It might be called Italy’s farm and market garden, and it is so situated that it is one of the chief commercial centers of this part of the world.
It is but a short ride by sea from Cagliari to. Palermo, the capital. We enter a fine -bay guarded by two rugged mountains, and come to anchor in front of the plain in which the city lies. The plain is called La Conca d’Oro, or the shell of gold, because of its fertile soil and its vast orchards of oranges, lemons, and other fruits.
Palermo lies right on the bay under the shadow of the mountains. It is a magnificent town, as large as Washing-ton, with wide streets and many fine buildings.
We spend some time in wandering about it, and then take a train for other parts of the island. We visit Mesina, a thriving seaport on the northeastern coast just opposite Italy and near the strait through which the ships go from Genoa and Naples on their way to Egypt and the Indian Ocean.
We stop at Catania at the foot of Mount Etna and ride some distance up the mountain, although not to the top. We are now on the highest volcano in Europe. Mount Etna rises far above Vesuvius, and as we look at it, we see that it is covered with snow. The mountain is now smoking, although not in actual eruption, as it has been at many times in the past. In recent times it has often burst forth, throwing out a deluge of hot lava, ashes, and rocks which covered the farms, vineyards, and villages in its course.
Much of our time in Sicily is spent in traveling about through the country. The island is a beautiful one, and every step brings a new and strange picture. The land is divided up into large estates, which are rented out to peasants who labor under overseers or perhaps on shares.
We saw some sulphur in the volcanoes we visited during our tour of the Pacific. There are also sulphur mines here and there in the earth. Mount Etna sometimes vomits forth sulphur mixed with its lava, but the chief supplies of Sicilian sulphur come from sulphur mines far away from the volcano. The sulphur lies in veins in the earth. It is dug out by men and boys, just as our people mine coal. The ore is carried to the surface, and then smelted or otherwise treated to remove the impurities, after which it is shipped to different parts of the world.